Monday, 1 April 2013

Q17: Why can't I let go of my feelings?

"Be positive!"... "Just let go!"... "Laugh it off!"... We so often hear this advice.
But what if we try – and we end up feeling worse? 

Undoable advice
Have you ever noticed that advice about 'getting rid' of difficult feelings is essentially undoable? If we had an off-switch, we could press it, and - Hey Presto! - we would feel 'whatever-we-want-to-feel-just-now' (happy, patient, positive, calm, courageous - you can fill in the gap).

But as we don't have an obvious off-switch, what next? How do we change what we don't like? Relying on will power to shake off a bad feeling is unpredictable, and even counter-productive. This is why.... 

Lost parts

Suppose you want to feel a certain way. "I WILL be calm!" you say. Or, "I WILL be positive!" Well, there's no doubt that something inside you wants to feel that way - and no wonder.

But what about the parts that don't feel calm or positive? That are feeling stressed or sad? They are there for good reasons too. They carry messages about what we need - different things in different situations. (If we're stressed, we might need security or calm; if we're sad, we might want kindness, empathy or companionship....) Giving our feelings attention, we discover the treasures they hold. The further away we push them, the harder it is to hear what they need. We may lose track of them altogether. That's how we create 'lost parts'. 

The same happens if we insist on a course of action - "I WILL be nice to Uncle Fred!" or "I WILL get up early!" Our good intentions are precious, and have a valuable life of their own. Yet what about the sides of us that don't like Uncle Fred? Or which want to stay in bed? They have a life of their own too. They may not consent to being overruled.

By creating lost parts, we create inner conflict. Like any minority voice, they cause trouble when they are pushed aside.

Of course, we may succeed through determination - and if we do, it's because we're able to take account of ourselves as a whole, without losing anything.

"I'd rather be grumpy!"

When we leave out parts of ourselves, we feel worse. This is when we suffer emotional backlashes. It's why fake friendliness can leave us tired and dispirited, jarred and divided. Being 'real' usually feels better (even it it still feels bad). 

Lost parts call for our attention by making their presence felt. We feel them as tension, aches and pains in our body, stress or emotional upheaval; and we hear them in our words which pop out of our mouths unexpectedly. To reclaim a lost part, the first step is to notice it. 

How to find a lost part

A sure sign of a lost part is a feeling that 'won't let go'. Viewed from without, we see it as a 'stuck', 'blocked', 'obstinate' or 'sabotaging' streak. We think it shouldn't be there. In fact, feelings are always there for good reasons. When we stop taking sides against them, we reclaim them. They hold gold. 

  • If you can't let go of 'stubborn' or 'sticky' feelings, give themmore space inside; see if you can welcome them gently. (And if you 'feel bad about feeling bad', try welcoming that too...!)

The principle:
  • You have more influence in your own emotional world when you interact kindly with your feelings - just as you have most influence with another person when you take them into account.

  • When we greet our feelings this way, we're less likely to inflict our difficult emotions on others in unhelpful ways

Become an inner peace negotiator 
When we welcome our lost parts, we become an inner peace negotiator. Our job is to hold equally our 'good sides' AND our 'annoying bits'. We are like a room full of people, some of them speaking more loudly than others. The moment we remember this, we find that even our 'awkward' voices have something important to say. And when we turn towards what feels bad, we usually find there's more space inside us for what feels good. We are no longer in conflict with how things are.
  • Faced with a conflict or difficulty, allow yourself to hold many responses
  • Allow space for every 'voice in the room' (you don't need to understand them to acknowledge them)
  • Welcome every feeling and need - those you want or likeand those you don't
The principle:
  • We rarely feel just good or just bad: we usually hold both
  • When we welcome all aspects of ourselves, we calm and settle naturally
  • When everything in us feels 'heard' - it works with us, not against us
  • We act and speak, feeling whole and complete
By Elizabeth English
with Peter Kuklis


  1. Very true!

    People always say happiness is a state of mind and you are the one that creates it. If feeling bad it is just upon us to start feeling good again - as it is state of mind we are creating.
    Honestly, that does not help much to tell that man is responsible for feeling happy and if not so it is basically his fault
    I like your idea to face any feelig straight and give them a room to be felt. However, the challenge is not to get stuck with them, especially with negative ones

  2. Hi Samo, yes, I really feel you have caught what I was trying to communicate – many thanks!

    And you make another point which is really important to me.

    I did not have time in this blog to talk about what happens when we get really stuck, because when we say "hello" to any feeling, the danger is that we do fall into the feeling – we get merged, or identified with it. Then we need to take a journey to come into relationship with it. Only then can we really say hello to it fully. And that is when it will shift and change by itself.

  3. I am going through being made redundant, and at a lunch with two well meaning work friends, they helped whip up feelings of inadequency and being hard done by financially, when they said things such as 'you will find it hard to get a job in your state(I have a disability, however I am more able than most), and 'you need to look after your financial future'. I thought I had worked through and put these emotions attached to these events behind me, but there they were again!

    Making room for those feelings - giving them some space on the couch and making them a cup of tea - rather than running for the shovel and burying them again is great advice. Thanks Locana and Peter!

  4. Hello Linda,

    I'm sorry to hear about your job! And especially about the exchange with your well-meaning friends.

    I'm so pleased you were able to sit down with those feelings, and give them some TLC. Feelings carry such wonderful messages about what matters to us, our values, our needs. I am so pleased you were able to listen to them. They often hold wisdom too about our next step or our direction forward.

    I hope something wonderful emerges for you next…

    All best wishes,

  5. Hello Elizabeth
    I just wanted to say how much difference your laughter yoga sessions are beginning to make to me already. Unfortunately I had to miss last Sunday's session but I am looking forward to coming again this week. I have had a lot of difficult times in my life and this last year has been very challenging, due to my daughter's serious mental health problems and the repercussions on our family. I felt so much lighter after coming to the sessions but I have found myself laughig a bit more than is socially acceptable at times, so I feel I have to tone it down a bit! I find that experiencing emotional pain in my body is very helpful to me. It feels as though I am accepting it rather than pushing it away and that it stops me ruminating about the past and possible future outcomes. Thank you.

  6. I'm delighted to hear this, Linda! Many thanks for letting me know… I am convinced that the laughter practice has real depth and wisdom to it. I certainly feel more lightness and flow. I am very glad it is a support for you at this difficult time.

    All best wishes, Elizabeth